Barbecuing vs Smoking vs Grilling – What Is the Difference?

Emma Loker Headshot - DIY Garden
Written by: - Gardening Expert
Barbecuing vs Smoking vs Grilling

If there’s one thing we love to do in summer, it’s cook outdoors. But what method will you be using this sunny season? 

Barbecuing, smoking, and grilling are all outdoor cooking methods involving a barbeque. Many assume these terms are interchangeable because they all use the same main equipment. However, in reality, they couldn’t be more different. Each method cooks different types of food in varied ways to create unique flavours and textures. 

Below, you’ll find a detailed guide on barbequing, smoking, and grilling, including how to use each method and choose the best approach for you. 

What’s the difference between barbequing, smoking, and grilling?

  • Barbequing involves slow cooking on low heat.
  • Grilling involves cooking quickly, on high heat, over a flame.
  • Smoking, like barbequing, is a form of low and slow cooking but it uses smoke as the main flavouring agent. 

What is Barbecuing?

What is Barbecuing

Barbequing is the method of choice for cooking hefty cuts of meat relatively quickly. I’m talking a whole chicken, rack of ribs, brisket, or leg of lamb. 

But what makes barbequing so good for these meats in particular? Well, the tenderer these cuts of meat are, the better, and you can achieve this through the slow cooking times and low temperatures barbequing involves. 

The low heat associated with barbequing is achieved by using indirect heat. You cook meat over heated coals, wood, or gas rather than an open flame.

How to Barbecue Food

You have two main options when barbequing food: gas or charcoal barbeque. Each method has pros and cons. 

In a nutshell, gas barbeques are convenient, as they’re easy to control and heat up quickly. They also provide consistent heat, which is important when you’re cooking for long durations. However, gas can be costly. 

In contrast, charcoal barbeques give that distinct smoky flavour that many people love. These barbeques are also the traditional outdoor cooking method and charcoal is less costly than gas. However, charcoal barbeques take longer to prep, and the heat is more difficult to control, making keeping a consistent temperature trickier.  

  • To learn more about each type of BBQ and the best ones to buy, check out our recommendations for Charcoal BBQs and Gas BBQs

Whichever type of barbeque you choose, you’ll need to bring it to a temperature of around 100 – 150°C to barbeque. Once it’s up to temperature, place your meat around the edge of your grill to avoid the flame. Then, shut the lid, and let the barbeque work its magic.

Shutting the lid keeps the temperature consistent and helps the meat soak up the smoke, giving it a real depth of flavour. 

The cooking time and exact temperature for each type of meat will differ depending on the size of the meat and how tender you want it to be. However, as a general rule:

  • Medium-rare 5lb leg of lamb: 150°C for 2 hours
  • Rack of ribs: 110 – 120°C for 3 – 4 hours
  • Brisket: 110 – 120°C, 1 hour per lb of meat
  • Whole chicken: 175 – 190°C for 1 hour – 1 ½ hours, depending on the size

Note that these are general guidelines, not exact temperatures and cooking times. Always ensure you use a meat thermometer to check your meat is cooked. Rare meat should be around 52°C, medium rare 57.2°C, medium 60°C, medium-well 68.3°C, and well done 71°C. 

What is Smoking Meat?

What is Smoking Meat

Smoking shares many similarities with barbequing, but the primary difference is that smoke is the main flavouring agent. Much like barbequing, smoking is best for tough, fatty meats such as:

  • Brisket
  • Pork shoulder
  • Ribs
  • Beef or pork roasts

However, smoking is typically less popular than barbequing as it generally takes longer to cook meat this way and requires slightly more finesse. 

Smoking tough meats for several hour makes the connective tissue and fat melt slowly, giving them a juicy texture. The smoke comes from burning wood, and different woods can give the meat a different flavour. 

Oak, hickory, and pecan are some of the best woods to smoke. While oak tends to burn slowly and has a milder flavour, the hickory’s flavour is stronger. 

Pecan wood is best for shorter smokes due to its strong, sweet and smoky flavour, which can be overpowering if you use it for long smokes. 

Fruit woods, such as cherry and apple, are also good for smoking. Like oak, fruit woods give the meat a milder smoky flavour, perfect for long smokes. 

Although it isn’t as common, you can smoke certain vegetables on a barbeque. However, they require less cooking time (around 15 – 30 minutes). Bell peppers, mushrooms, corn on the cob, onions, and aubergine are great vegetables to smoke. 

READ NEXT: The Best BBQ Meat Smokers

How to Smoke Meat

When smoking meat, meat preparation is key. You need to trim off any excess connective tissue and fat – this helps the smoke penetrate the meat and prevents uneven cooking. It also ensures the meat doesn’t have a greasy, unpleasant texture. You can then add your seasonings and marinade or dry rub.

To prepare the smoker, fill it with wood chips, then preheat the barbeque to the desired temperature. You can follow these as general guidelines:

  • Pork shoulder: 107 – 121°C for 8 – 10 hours
  • Brisket: 107 – 121°C for 10 – 12 hours
  • Fish: 82 – 93°C for 1 – 2 hours
  • Pork ribs:  107 – 121°C for 4 – 6 hours
  • Whole chicken: 121 – 135°C for 3 – 4 hours

These are general guidelines, not exact temperatures and cooking times. Always ensure you use a meat thermometer to check your meat is cooked. 

Once your smoker is prepped, add your meat around the sides of the barbeque, away from the flame, and shut the lid. 

Temperature is the most important factor when smoking. Keeping your eye on the temperature is essential, as temperatures of 149°C or above will cook the outer skin of the meat cooking too rapidly, leaving your meat with a tough, impenetrable outer layer.

What is Grilling?

What is Grilling

When someone says they’re “having a BBQ,” this is normally grilling. Grilling typically involves cooking small cuts of meat and veg quickly, at a high temperature between 230 – 290°C. Unlike barbequing and smoking, you place the meat right over the heat during grilling. 

Because of the speedy cooking times and high heat, grilling is only suitable for tender meats, such as:

  • Steaks, including ribeye, sirloin, and T-bone
  • Chops, such as pork and lamb chops
  • Chicken breasts
  • Filet mignon
  • Seafood
  • Burgers
  • Sausages

And when it comes to choosing veg to grill, the softer, the better. Think bell peppers, squash, corn on the cob, aubergine, and portobello mushrooms. 

How to Grill Food

When grilling, oil the grates and bring the barbeque to your desired temperature. When you’re ready, place your meat directly over the gas or charcoal flame, and cook it for the recommended cooking time.

For the tenderest meats, such as steaks and chops, cook them on high heat for as little time as possible. Otherwise, they’ll begin to lose their moisture and go tough. On the other hand, a more delicate touch and lower temperature are necessary for fish, veg, and chicken breasts. 

Keep the barbeque lid off while cooking, and remember to turn your food occasionally this ensures your food cooks evenly!

Once you’ve checked the meat with a meat thermometer and made sure it’s cooked, let it rest for a few minutes before serving. While many people may skip over this step, resting time allows the meat’s juices to redistribute, helping you achieve the ultimate flavour and tenderness. 

How to Choose The Best Method For You

There are some main points to consider when choosing whether to barbeque, smoke, or grill:

  • Cut and size of meat: Bigger, tougher pieces of meat should be smoked or barbequed, as they require long cooking times over low heat to become juicy and tender. Smaller meats like sausages and chicken breasts are better for grilling as they can be cooked quickly over high heat. 
  • Time: Barbequing and smoking typically take hours. If you have time to spare and you want your meat to be as tender as possible, these methods may be perfect for you. But if you’re having everyone over for a BBQ and you’re looking to cook lots of food quickly, you may prefer to grill.
  • Flavour: Grilling gives you that characteristic charred flavour. In contrast, barbequing and smoking will make your food taste smoky and sometimes sweet, depending on the wood you use. 
  • Ease: If you’d rather take the easy road, grilling is definitely for you. It keeps the temperature consistent throughout, so you always know what to expect. In comparison, you have to keep on top of barbequing and smoking to keep the temperature constant and prevent the meat from drying out. 

Ultimately, it’s your choice whether to barbeque, smoke, or grill. It depends on your preference and what food you wish to cook. 

Think about how much time you have, the type of food you want to cook, your flavour preferences, and how easy you want the process to be. Considering each factor should help you out when deciding which method to choose. 

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